Cover Photo: Facebook / Magna Kusina

Food & Wine magazine just published their annual list of Best New Chefs, and Filipino talents Carlo Lamagna and Thessa Diadem have made the cut

Every year, Food & Wine magazine spotlights America’s most disruptive rising stars in the culinary industry. This year, the 33rd class of Best New Chefs honours eleven individuals who demonstrated both gastronomic know-how and inspiring leadership amidst an impossibly testing year. Read on to learn more about Carlo Lamagna and Thessa Diadem, the two Filipino chefs recognised as Best New Chefs 2021.

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Carlo Lamagna - Chef and Owner, Magna Kusina

Chef Carlo Lamagna’s culinary journey has been anything but easy. After spending much of his childhood in Detroit, the Philippine-born chef returned to his homeland where he graduated from high school and attended college - until he was kicked out. Lamagna then ended up back in Detroit, working stints at various restaurants before enrolling himself at the Culinary Institute of America.

Fresh off his studies, things were looking up for Lamagna. His culinary quest took him to Germany, France, and Spain, then back to the United States to work with chef Paul Virant. Soon, he was presented with an opportunity to spearhead Clyde Commons as its executive chef, taking Lamagna to Portland, Oregon. However, after a stifling economic downturn, Lamagna was let go.

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Concerned about making ends meet, Lamagna was forced to re-strategise. Speaking with Authority Magazine’s Vicky Colas, he recalls, “after the initial shock, I went all in, committing to opening my own place, to be my own boss so that this will never happen again.” With this newfound determination, Lamagda restarted his Twisted Filipino dinner pop-up series and jumped into catering and event gigs until he finally realised his lifelong dream of opening his own Filipino restaurant: Magna Kusina.

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“I want it to be more than just a restaurant," Lamagna shares with Food & Wine, "I want it to be a place where people feel safe and comfortable, and where they can come together and share stories." True enough, Magna’s menu incites a delicious raucousness with classic street food like fishballs and isaw, as well as other celebratory fare like sisig and pancit. Magna also serves classic cocktails with a Filipino twist, like the Pinoy paloma with calamansi and turon daiquiri with caramelised banana. Through Magna, chef Lamagna hopes to lead the fight in decolonising the food scene by reclaiming our cuisine, championing our food by our own volition.

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Photo: Facebook / Magna Kusina
Above Magna Kusina's Holiday Offering | Photo: Facebook / Magna Kusina

Thessa Diadem - Pastry Director, All Day Baby

Thessa Diadem’s first foray into the culinary world was met with much resistance - her own. With her high school graduation fast approaching, Diadem’s father tirelessly pushed her to consider culinary school. Hoping to please (or at the very least, politely silence) her hounding father, Diadem moved to New York City and commenced her studies at the prestigious academy now known as the Institute of Culinary Education.

“At first I was just doing this because I wanted my dad off my back”, Diadem reveals to Food & Wine, “but on my first day in class, I just realized this is where I was supposed to be.” Sure enough, this brewing passion would continue to thrive. Now back in Los Angeles, Diadem secured a pastry chef position working for legendary and Janomes Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant duo, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.

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However, this whirlwind success drove Diadem to suffer a paralysing burnout at a mere 28 years old. Diadem uprooted herself and moved to Italy, chased by a barrage of messages from former colleague Jonathan Whitener asking her to lead the kitchens of his upcoming concepts. Eventually, Diadem accepted Whitener’s offer and flew back to Los Angeles to open Here’s Looking At You and later All Day Baby and as the restaurants’ pastry chef.

Some five years later, and Diadem churns out some of the most irresistible, mouthwatering pastries at Los Angeles diner All Day Baby. There’s the baked Alaska, packed with strawberry sorbet, sour cream brown sugar sherbet, and a brown sugar graham crust; the tantalising sweet potato sticky buns with toasted marshmallow; and of course, the striking ube and buko pie generously dotted with chamomile cream. While Here’s Looking At You is but a fond memory for those lucky enough to have dined at the Koreatown haunt, Diadem and her team continue to impress at All Day Baby, showing no signs of stopping.

Though it may be a while until we can congratulate Carlo Lamagna and Thessa Diadem over a plate of pancit or a slice of ube pie, their well-deserved recognitions certainly strike a chord with aspiring culinarians and proud Filipinos around the world. As both expert chefs and fearless leaders, these Best New Chefs of 2021 are definitely worth keeping a close eye on.

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